Michigan, School, Theatre, Traveling


It’s good to be sitting in the dark here in the Hilberry Theatre instead of sitting in the quiet at my house while the acting company puts the finishing touches on our current production, Inspecting Carol, before it enjoys Opening Night and a (total) three week run beginning Friday night.

This is somewhat keeping me away from focusing on end of the semester writing assignments, but that’s clearly par for the course at this point. If anything, it is pleasing to note that the tail end of the semester seems to be delivering more focus for me than at other times so far during this academic year. Perhaps there is something to be said for working under pressure and deadlines in a collaborative environment.

Continuing with my recent theme of “focusing in on the minutiae” I’d like to note an odd, but fun experience while driving into work this morning. As opposed to the aggression of eight days ago, which I noted in a corresponding blog post, this time I was much more “go with the flow”, although I had decided that today would be my weekly stop at the Tim Horton’s on the way into work. (I’ve come to treat it as a game of sorts to not go there every day.)

Not long after departing the Tim Horton’s (which was having a clusterfuck parking lot moment, so I’d parked in the adjacent lot), I flipped radio channels to my semi-regular station 93.9 and the song I’d thought and hoped might be playing was right there on the station!

Of course, this is as much a commentary on the station’s possible lack of variety as it is to my own keen intuition – a Jedi Mind Trick of sorts – but it still was a nice coincidence.

Yesterday's sunset from the office window

Yesterday’s sunset from the office window

Michigan, Movies, School, Theatre

Focusing in on the Minutiae

Some blogs do a great job of focusing in on the little details, the big moments in their author’s memories that seem to stand out in their author’s memories. Or maybe they have been embellished for detail and only the author knows the truth. In any case, this is a detail that I feel like my writing is only periodically successful with, and it’s something I’d like to work on. So I present this entry in a deliberately more active style.

Today, the Monday before Thanksgiving break, had that “ehh…” feeling that most Mondays tend to have. It was likely amplified for a variety of reasons, including our impending time off from the academic calendar (which will start tomorrow night for me), the sense of just hanging around after my midday class concluded, and, broadly, Michigan’s sudden shift back into winter weather this weekend, with up to a foot of snow in some parts of the state, and a relatively mild dusting here in metro Detroit.

Two brief interactions over the course of my day (which hasn’t ended yet, so there could be more!) made me feel like I had an invisible “(YOU CAN) TALK TO ME!” stamp on my face.

A recent morning view from Tim Horton's

A recent morning view from Tim Horton’s

In the first instance, I ordered my usual beverage at my on-the-way-to-work Tim Horton’s (where I’ve just recently crossed over into being “a familiar customer”), and an older man in his 40’s or 50’s was sitting near the counter. He suddenly started talking to me about gas prices and how it is notable that Michigan prices have recently fallen to around $1.75 per gallon or higher (which completes a cycle of up then down that started at the beginning of this calendar year.) I replied with some standard conversation and seemed to surprise him when I said the lowest gas prices I remember are around 89 cents per gallon in the late 1990’s.

I’d also like to note my impressed feeling that this Tim Horton’s location is often a hangout for US-Canadian Border Patrol officers.

In the second instance, I’m in my work elevator, which is generally the usual spot for awkward silences, since it draws a mixture of faculty and students. The fellow passenger actually engaged me in conversation, and I don’t remember what it was about! I do remember a similar instance sometime last week where the elevator briefly stopped in its path and seemed to be deciding whether to actually get stuck or continue, (it did proceed) – but the next day, the power went out in the building for at least an hour, and I wondered if that was a precursor.

Maple Theatre

Visiting the Bloomfield Great Lakes Coffee (inside the Maple Theatre), January 2015

A detailed blog post could be written about the venue where I am writing at this moment, known as the Great Lakes Coffee Company. It is a small chain of fair trade coffee shops in the metro Detroit region, and this location also has a beer and wine license. In the past I have enjoyed another of their locations adjacent to The Maple Theatre in Bloomfield Hills, where I took the picture displayed here at one of their very classy jazz evenings, but it is no longer as convenient a trip for me in my current living arrangement.

Nonetheless, this location on Woodward Avenue in Detroit could easily be seen as a hipster capital of Detroit, and I once heard it referred to as “capital of the New Detroit” (though I forget who or what said that) – meaning that the people who have flocked to Detroit within the past 5 years are more likely to turn up here than long-time residents. A friend says that the venue once served as a music club, and it’s easy to see its roots with exposed brick walls and rough hardwood floors. For a time I felt like I was watching the place change, as it instituted an awkward reserved seating policy involving hosts and table service, and seemed to want to deliberately elevate itself to a fast-casual type of place. I also felt like I didn’t particularly want to associate with that “new Detroit” energy (although I admit I could be seen as part of that same crowd) coming here and being seen, just because.

But … things seem more relaxed this time around, and it’s only the second or third time I’ve been here since returning to Detroit for the school year. I can’t tell if this is a permanent relaxation or increased comfort among the venue itself, but I think it does warrant a return visit sometime down the road.

Michigan, Movies, School, Theatre

Getting back to Blogging, and Detroit Culture Vulture-ing

My first few days back in Southeast Michigan have brought a lot of driving, reunions, food, logistics, and just one film. Time will tell if I’m able to get this blog back up to regular speed. I think it is doable.

The one film, Amy, is clearly one of the most powerful entertainment (as opposed to human rights or other subject) documentaries I’ve ever seen. Using a combination of home movies, existing concert and interview footage, and present day voice-only interviews with the singer’s family and friends, the film charts the rise and fall of singer Amy Winehouse, who achieved her widest fame for her “Back to Black” album around 2007, before falling into a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse that eventually led to her premature death in 2011.

The success of the film, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Asif Kapadia, lies in its ability to refocus the narrative about Winehouse from a one-hit punchline into a full complex person. The viewer walks away with a clear and devastating understanding of how the acquisition of fame changed her life and what those around her could and could not enforce to make sure she was still herself.

School, Theatre

Self Revelatory Weekend

This weekend (last night and tonight) is the bi-annual weekend of Self Revelatory Performances for my Drama Therapy Program at CIIS.

In the words of our founder and professor, Renee Emunah, in self-revelatory performance “the issue must be current so that there is an immediacy to this transformation; this immediacy is theatrically compelling and at times riveting. The creation of the scene itself and the transition contained within it imply a kind of transcendence, which the audiences witnesses and applauds.
(Further information, and that initial quote, is described and taken from here.)

“Self Revs”, as they are affectionately known, have been a presence in my and my classmates CIIS experiences since close to our first day of classes in September, 2009. We had to prepare a short 10 minute self rev as a final project for an introductory Drama Therapy class. We were encouraged to review videos of previous Self Revs from years past. Starting with our first semester, we were invited to attend the final performances and presentations given by older students in the department.

Now, the feeling is different. Self Revs have become our friends, literally and figuratively, and my classmates have begun to step on to the stage to perform their own stories. This is not just a scripted scene that looks at personal history. This is a long-form process lasting between 30-40 minutes, where being part of the audience is just as specific a role as being the one onstage.

Last night, three students went. One performer is my classmate; we worked together last year on the San Quentin Shakespeare Project. Tonight, three more students will perform, including two additional classmates.

There’s something interesting about being in the “in-between” stage of performances, as I am right now. Last night’s stories are on my mind, even though I am physically here at home in Marin. I look forward to tonight’s stories with some anticipation and wonder about the stories of my friends and acquaintances who are performing.

Each performance last night was highly distinct and equally powerful. In self-revs, the performer can choose to be literal or metaphorical about their personal issues. Everyone seemed to go for something in between. For myself, as a reacting and witnessing audience member, I paid attention to my response. I felt more trusting and understanding of the first performer, whom I had previously only really gotten to know in one context. The second performance gave me a similar feeling of understanding, where I only slightly knew the performer through 1-2 contexts and really not on a personal level. The third performer brought their own story right on to the stage. This was intriguing and provocative for me to witness, as I was familiar with some aspects of the story. I also recognized when the performer addressed particularly sensitive and/or important material for them on an individual level.

As of this week, I’ve just begun my own self revelatory performance process. The final performance, in whatever form it takes place, will be performed sometime in July. I am attracted to the idea of having the performance on my birthday (July 18) and using the significance of going on that date in the piece somehow. The first rehearsal brought more immediacy than I anticipated. I’m honestly and wholeheartedly looking forward to continuing the process.

marin county, School, Theatre

Reality Intervenes

My “Big Plans” for this blog to be a regular chronicle of dramatic criticism and theatregoing have had to take a back seat for the moment as I adjust to a new apartment and an intense grad school work schedule. The expense of theatre tickets has also played a part as I return to primarily seeing shows that I can get comped or significantly discounted tickets for. I do hope to have things back on a regular or more consistent schedule by the end of this month.


Suzanne Vega at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco CA

I had an exciting one two punch of performing arts this week, following up Next to Normal with a live performance by singer songwriter Suzanne Vega. Interestingly, Vega appeared in a concert sponsored by my school, CIIS, although this was downplayed in some publicity material, and the CIIS Public Programs coordinator half jokingly referred to her as part of “North American World Music”, where the school is known for offering worldly music concerts. I thought I’d offer some ruminations here to continue the chronicling. I volunteered backstage for the event, and it was interesting for me to see the differences in live music and live theatre productions. It was also my first time inside the Palace of Fine Arts theatre space, although I had been there for a lobby event last year.

I was impressed by Vega’s assured mannerisms and confidence onstage. She displayed no trace of fatigue or tiredness singing some songs that must be incredibly familiar to her. She seemed to turn the familiarity to her advantage, closing the show with a particularly edgy take on her classic “Tom’s Diner“, backed by a tight supportive duo of electric guitar and bass players. Her music remains highly evocative and literate. I easily thought back to when I followed her material more closely around 2002-2004, listening to her songs in the rural landscapes of Massachusetts, Maine and other locations. Her onstage banter or storytelling was somewhat variable. Initially it seemed like she would be more terse, saying just “Thanks!” in a clipped tone of voice after some of her songs. But later she relaxed and told longer situation specific stories, including several anecdotes of previous trips to San Francisco.

Blog Challenge, School

A Memorable Night Out … February 18 and April 3

Did you have a night out with friends or a loved one that rocked your world? Who was there? What was the highlight of the night?

There were two San Francisco and classmate centered nights this year that stand out strongly in my reflections. February 18 had a spontaneous flair of excitement and the feel of a never ending day. Perhaps I will go into public detail about that… or not. But April 3rd had even more excitement, group spirit, sense of fun, and for me at least, a feeling that we’d put aside our academic concerns that night and could (and did) focus on enjoying each others company.

10 out of 15 of us assembled in the Mission District to celebrate our classmate’s wedding. She had given us specific instructions to attend in our best Steampunked outfits and “crash” the reception, due to be held in a nearby function hall. One classmate and I were the first people to arrive at the restaurant. For a little while, it seemed like our friends had forgotten about the dinner prelude, but it became clear that they were actually just fashionably late. We took pride in our outlandish costumes and drew stares of questions from passerby on Valencia Street. I think some people’s meals got mixed up while we ordered dinner. Clearly the focus was not entirely just on our meal!

We migrated over to the reception hall – I was one of the two designated drivers – and reassembled as a whole group. The other classmate designated driver decided to park her car in a narrow parallel spot, but then realized she couldn’t navigate the tight space, so another classmate stepped in to park it instead. I remember the whole process took about double the length of time it should have. We noticed that the reception was in full swing and briefly debated how we would enter, as we were a noticeably large group coming into a room that had already settled for a meal into small table groups of no more than 10 people.

Ultimately we decided to make a full scene and enter in a choreographed line. We strode across the floor in single file, causing many heads to turn (again) at our outlandish costumes. Our classmate was at the other end of the room, and genuinely surprised and thrilled to see us. She later shared that it was one of the highlights of the evening. Other adventures followed through the reception, as we joined in on various dance routines (including a version of Blondie’s Call Me that I particularly remember) and two classmates performed a climactic and provocative dance.

The evening didn’t end there, but I don’t have to spell it all out here. Ultimately I returned home over the Golden Gate Bridge at around 3am with a sense of satisfaction and exhilaration over having done something different and still humane with my school friends.

The BEST Steam Punked Wedding Costumes